'Moeen Ali told me to show we can achieve our dreams'

Tuesday 12 May 2015
Easah Suliman hopes to inspire other British Asians
With the words of encouragement from England cricketer Moeen Ali still ringing in his ears, it dawned on Easah Suliman that he had the potential to inspire a whole community.

The England Under-17s international is a proud Muslim, and when he was handed the captain’s armband for his country against Faroe Islands back in August 2013 he became the first British Asian to skipper the Young Lions.

Birmingham-born Suliman, who signed a pro deal with Aston Villa when he turned 17 in January, is in Bulgaria as part of John Peacock’s squad for the European U17 Championship, and is hoping that his performances can help to give belief to Asian youngsters across the country.

England v Republic of Ireland

UEFA European U17s Championship
Group D
5pm, Wednesday 13 May 2015
Beroe, Stara Zagara, Bulgaria
Live on Eurosport

“Being a British-Pakistani, it doesn’t really happen that often to people in my community. I hope that I’m inspiring people around me and in my area to believe that they can achieve what they want with hard work,” Suliman told TheFA.com at the team hotel in Pomorie.

“It’s huge playing for England. It’s a small community where I live in Moseley, but everyone is well excited to see me do well and they are all rooting for me. I’m trying to do it to prove to those younger than me that they can achieve their dreams.

“Moeen, who has been playing the recent Test matches for England, is another British Pakistani Muslim from around my area as well. He is a friend of my dad and has spoken to me a few times about it.

“He’s given me a lot of advice and encouraged me to keep going and carry on doing what I’m doing. He wants me to show the younger ones around my area that they can make it in professional sports, it doesn’t matter what culture you are, the opportunities are there and we can achieve our dreams.”

England cricketer Moeen Ali had words of encouragement for Suliman

England cricketer Moeen Ali had words of encouragement for Suliman

As a practising Muslim, Suliman can only eat halal meat, but he says he is getting all the support he needs within the England camp.

“One of the main issues when we come away is the food. It can be quite hard when you visit another country, but Dave Tivey [the side’s physical performance coach] has been amazing at sorting it out, along with our team ops Andrew Free.

“The only meat that I can’t eat is pork. Any other meat has to be Halal, but fish is fine too, so I’ve had plenty of options.”

And then of course there is Ramadan, a time when Suliman has to fast for 30 days, which is a challenge for any professional athlete.

“The last Ramadan for me was in June, just when we started pre-season. So I was fasting whilst doing that, but Villa were brilliant in supporting me and managing my workload throughout that.

“I get a lot of support through talking to my coaches. They know my religion is the most important thing for me, and that will always come first, so I will always fast and try and work my football around that.”

'Moeen wants me to show the younger ones in my area that they can make it in professional sports and achieve their dreams'

And so to the football, and Suliman and his England team-mates are in pole position in Group D going into their final game against Republic of Ireland on Wednesday. Having defeated Italy 1-0 before Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Holland, they are in top spot on four points, one ahead of the Azzurrini.

The squad arrived in Bulgaria last Sunday, and although the centre-half has yet to feature, he is determined to take his chance when it arrives.

“It’s been great to be called up for the finals. I thought I did quite well in the Elites, especially in the last game. I showed my versatility again as I ended up playing right-back at the end of that game,” he said.

“Obviously, I’ve been disappointed personally not to have played at all yet, but it’s a team effort. I’ve got to keep training hard and hopefully my chance will come. John has been really making the point to us that if we are to do well here then it is going to take all 18 of us, so I’ve got to support the boys as best I can until I get my opportunity.

“That’s what I need to do, stay focused as I know my time will come and I’ve got to take my chance.”

He added: “The time has kind of flown by out here to be honest. When we got here the first day, the first game came quickly and the days have just come thick and fast. We’ve had our rest days, but we’ve been here over a week already and it’s gone in no time.

“We’ve done great – but it would have been even better if we had managed to secure qualification after the second game. But to be on four points and top of the group going into the last game is quality.

“We’re in a great position. But we have to be ready for Wednesday. Ireland are really going to want to beat us. We need to ensure we go out with the right attitude and get the win that will secure us a place in the quarter-finals.”

You can watch England’s final group match with Republic of Ireland live on Eurosport on Wednesday, kick-off 5pm

Keep updated with all the latest news from the Young Lions camp by following @England on Twitter

‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’, The FA’s plan to increase Asian participation in grassroots football, will be available to download from TheFA.com this Thursday 14 May. 

The plan is part of The FA’s wider Inclusion & Anti-Discrimination strategy, and reflects the eight consultations which took place in 2014, with the most densely populated Asian communities in the country.’

By Gary Stonehouse Staff Writer In Pomorie, Bulgaria